Questions that Sharky gets a lot

Q: What's a pilot fish?

A: There are two answers to that question. One is the Mother Nature version: Pilot fish are small fish that swim just ahead of sharks. When the shark changes direction, so do the pilot fish. When you watch underwater video of it, it looks like the idea to change direction occurred simultaneously to shark and pilot fish.

Thing is, sharks go pretty much anywhere they want, eating pretty much whatever they want. They lunge and tear and snatch, but in so doing, leave plenty of smorgasbord for the nimble pilot fish.

The IT version: A pilot fish is someone who swims with the sharks of enterprise IT -- and lives to tell the tale. Just like in nature, a moment's inattention could end the pilot fish's career. That's life at the reef.

Q: Are all the Sharky stories true?

A: Yes, as best we can determine.

Q: Where do the Sharky tales come from?

A: From readers. Sharky just reads and rewrites and basks in the reflected glory of you, our readers. It is as that famous fish-friendly philosopher Spinoza said, "He that can carp in the most eloquent or acute manner at the weakness of the human mind is held by his fellows as almost divine."

Q: How do I get one of those fabulous Sharky T-shirts?

A: Here's how it works. You send us your tale of perfidy, heroism or just plain weirdness at your IT shop. If Sharky selects it for publication, you get the shirt -- free and clear, no handling charges.

Q: Do I have to write my story in Sharky-ese?

A: No. Not at all. Just be sure to give us details. What happened, to whom, what he said, what she said, how it all worked out.

Q: I've got a really funny story, but I could get fired if my old trout of a boss found out I told you. How confidential is what I send to Sharky?

A: We don't publish names: yours, your boss's, your trout's, your company's. We try to file off the serial numbers, though there's no absolute guarantee that someone who lived through the incident won't recognize himself. Our aim is to share the outrageous, knee-slapping, milk-squirting-out-your-nose funny tales that abound in the IT world, not to get you fired. That would not be funny.

Q: You published my tale. Where's my T-shirt?

A: Hey, hey, cut us a break. You sent your tale over the Internet. If we could send your Shark shirt that way, you can bet we would.

Because most Shark Tank submissions don't include a full mailing address, we have to contact each pilot fish to get the address before sending out a T-shirt. That's done in batch mode, so it can take anywhere from a day to a few weeks. When things really get backed up, it can fall behind as much as a month or more.

But be assured: Sharky vows to forget no one!

Occasionally by the time your tale sees print, your e-mail address will have changed. If your e-mail address changed after you sent your contribution and you never got your shirt, let us know at We'll get right on it.

Q: How do I get each new Shark Tank tale emailed to me?

Easy. Subscribe to the newsletter.

Q: Where are the Sharkives?

Tales of old can be found in Sharky's archive.

'And why do they call it dialing, anyway?'

IT tech working at a government research site also manages the phone system. But when a new researcher has trouble making an outside call, everything seems to be working right. What's going wrong?

Why we love power users (low-wattage division)

Pilot fish is working at the help desk of a managed service provider when a call comes in from one very angry user who complains that a critical Excel file has lost all its data -- the file still exists, but it's empty.

Who knew this network stuff was so tricky?

It's back in the pre-Internet days, and this company sends data between sites on reels of magnetic tape -- but it's looking at a better way.

Work for us? Fine. Get hired? Not so fast...

Bank is really interested in hiring this contract software developer, and she's willing to sign up. But there's a catch: All new hires have to take a test, and this one isn't exactly IT-friendly.

Everyone's greatest resource: Somebody else's time

IT analyst pilot fish gets a frantic email message from a customer support. Some of the company's software has stopped working for a big customer. Does fish know of any changes that caused that?

It's not like anybody was there using it, right?

This small team of state-government auditors arrives at work one morning to find that their server has suddenly gone incommunicado. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to find out why.

Any color you like, as long as it's black

Pilot fish has just overseen a redesign of the corporate website, and a manager comes to his desk holding a printout of the new home page. Manager's question: 'Why isn't this in color?'

Mumble jumble

This outdated mainframe running an obsolete operating system suffers a failure almost every week, and this pilot fish has to support it. But that's not his biggest problem.

Why we still do deskside tech support

IT tech for a midsize school district gets a trouble ticket from a high school teacher: She can't get a DVD out of her classroom's aging DVD/VCR combo player. Which of many possible problems is it this time?

Urgent, redefined

Client needs certain features added to this software vendor's product -- and it's urgent, so the vendor's programmer works overtime to get it done. And then?

Actually, we pay what we pay and we HOPE you'll take it

This IT pilot fish joins a well-known computer services company, and he's really happy with the opportunities the new job presents. Then he happens to see a report that's just come out of a printer.

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